Cricket: The potential was there, but the form went missing

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND'S SELECTORS are under huge pressure to try something - anything - different when they pick the party to tour South Africa this winter. The 17 names will be announced tomorrow morning (assuming the NatWest final can be finished today) and there is no use in any member of the team who has played this summer denying the clamour for change.

As a member of a batting combination which has underachieved - and as Mike Gatting pointed out to me the other day, the top order has been inconsistent for some time - I can sympathise with the mood. The initial point to be considered when analysing the series against New Zealand which ended in a 2-1 defeat for England at The Oval last Sunday and in deciding on the make-up of the touring party is that we did not play up to our potential.

All the fellows in that order have made runs at Test level, but we did not do so to any great extent this summer. It was a low-scoring series, the pitches were indifferent - England got the worst of them - but that does not alter the basic point. Nobody who was in that team will be looking with too much confidence to being asked to spend the winter in South Africa.

The selectors' job is, however, not easy. They have probably been trying to perform a balancing act and balancing acts are always difficult to get precisely right. It is likely to involve blending some experienced players with some new blood. In doing this they have to ask if the ones they are considering as replacements will be any better than what they have in place already. Or they may believe they are going to develop into something better, in which case they have to stick with them for a while.

As I have observed before, there are no batting names jumping off the page at them. I honestly don't think that when the batsmen who were picked this summer, and for a little before, were first chosen, there were many disagreements. They were, I feel, judged by most followers to be the best around. If only you could bottle form, if only.

I know that my head is on the chopping block along with everybody else's. For myself, I can say only that I still feel I possess the qualities of a Test batsman. I feel I have something to contribute to England and I feel relaxed about playing at this level. I have come off the back of an indifferent series but in my defence I think that I had performed pretty well, sometimes in difficult circumstances, in the year before that.

While I tend to avoid newspapers, not least because I like to retain cordial relations with the writers and that might prove difficult if I took exception to some of the things that might be put before me, it has not been possible to be anything but aware of the critical flak recently. Perhaps players down the generations have felt like this but some of it has been pretty unacceptable. Some commentators, who have not bothered to ask me, have made some wildly speculative comments about my state of mind when I'm batting. How can they possibly know?

I was deeply upset last Sunday in the second innings at The Oval when I was out first ball. There is not a lot you can do about that, you know. It was a good ball, it was quick enough, I had to play it, it moved away, I pushed at it and was caught behind. And then the team went on to lose. So many times I have been left with no specialist batsmen at the other end and now here were Alec Stewart and me. One partnership could well have won the game and the series and I got out.

England have no divine right to go out and beat New Zealand, but equally, it hurt not to do so. Contrary to what you might have heard, it was bitterly disappointing for the players. They want to do well for England and for the people who watch them. They want that above all. We have honestly tried our socks off this summer.

Perhaps sometimes we have not helped ourselves but we did not ever give up. With the ball and in the field we have kept coming back. We have stayed in contention. The team have stayed positive but I do feel there is a lot of negative influence from outside. And that cannot be helpful in the long run.

Just as England have no divine right to beat New Zealand - and what a good team they proved to be - so nobody has an automatic right to a place in the England side. Tomorrow morning we will know what the selectors think the future holds. I want to be part of it.